Smaller towns will be hit harder and faster by high street decline, says Yorkshire MP Clive Betts

Smaller towns will see their town centres declining more rapidly than larger areas unless they adapt to changing consumer habits, a senior Yorkshire MP said as a study suggested around 14 high street shops are closing a day.

A study of 500 high streets by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company found 2,692 stores had vanished in the first six months of the year - roughly 14 a day.

Clive Betts, who is heading up an inquiry on high streets as chair of the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, said big chains which have got into difficulty have tended to close small town stores faster than those in the big cities.

This creates a ripple effect which means “trade dries up and other closures follow”, the Sheffield South East MP said.

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“The other particular worry is if you look at all the stores that are closing, the big chains, if they have got choices about closing some and keeping some open, they are generally closing in the smaller locations,” he told The Yorkshire Post, which is backing the Love Your High Street campaign alongside other Johnston Press titles.

“So smaller towns and centres are going to struggle more than others because that’s where the closures are happening.”

His comments came as a study of 500 high streets by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company found 2,692 stores had vanished in the first six months of the year - roughly 14 a day.

It is similar to the same period in 2017, although there has been a dramatic fall in the number of openings year-on-year.

Compared with 2,342 shops opening their doors in the first six months of last year, there were 1,569 openings between January 1 and June 30.

Greater London and the South East were the regions worst hit by closures of chains, followed by the Midlands, the North East and East of England.

Mr Betts said the decline of high street shopping was inevitable as people look online to buy goods.

He said councils must now look at changing their town centre offer, with more coffee shops, theatres and cinemas to replace closing stores.

The Labour MP welcomed the £600m Chancellor Philip Hammond made available for a fund to transform high streets in last week’s Budget, but stressed that business rates need “fundamental and long-term” reform rather than the relief currently on offer.

Meanwhile, Rother Valley MP Sir Kevin Barron described the figures as “truly shocking”

“I have seen so many businesses come and go on the high street in South Yorkshire over the last few years. If national chains such as House of Fraser cannot survive then what chance do local independents. Whilst I welcome the steps the Government announced in the budget, it is not nearly enough to reverse this decline. We need a national approach to this issue, I worry it may be a case of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said pubs and shops in the city are facing a “triple whammy” of “burdensome” business rates, online competition and higher import costs due to the weaker pound caused by Brexit.

High Streets and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said: “The Government recognises the challenges facing high streets driven by changing consumer behaviour.

“That is why the Budget has high streets at its heart. “

'More avocado on toast than cheese sandwiches' - cafes can boost high street

Promoting Bespoke leisure experiences such as high-end cafes selling avocado on toast could be one way to save the high street, Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake said yesterday.

“More and more people are going for more bespoke, high quality, different things - we’re moving from a cheese sandwich to avocado on toast aren’t we?

“That’s happening and you are seeing a lot of retailers, new operators, who understand that, and are providing these kinds of experiences that people are looking for.

“But also you are seeing opportunities for nail bars, beauty salons, new kinds of pubs, micropubs.

“That will be the same whether it’s in Doncaster or Malton.”